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Archive for the ‘social entrepreneurship’ Category

Me, presenting at ConspireNY

Presenting at ConspireNY

Life has been ridiculously busy lately and I’ve obviously let this blog go by the wayside for a bit. I hope to properly pick it up again soon, but in the meanwhile this is a post I wrote for the StartSomeGood blog recently and I figured I should also share here.

During February, thanks to the generous support of Renata Cooper and Forming Circles, I had the opportunity to attend two great conferences in Thailand and the US respectively where I was thrilled to meet changemakers and social entrepreneurs from at least 16 countries and learn more about their projects, challenges and insights.

The trip started at the Ci2i Learn/Share Lab for Co-Creative Impact and Innovation outside Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand (I know, I know, it’s hard work this whole social entrepreneur thing sometimes). This was a very different sort of event from the norm: more intimate, focused and generative. It involved 25 of us living together for three days while exploring the practice of co-creative changemaking through a variety of case-studies and conversations.

The participants had come from every continent on earth. Their stories and their commitment to a style of leadership which encourages participation, empowers others and shares successes were inspiring and very often moving. Many were working in incredible challenging environments, against entrenched systems of inequality, supporting refugees, the disabled or those seeking an alternative to business as usual.

What did we mean by “co-creative leadership”? We didn’t let ourselves get too bogged down in definitions (you can see the raw notes from the event here) but for me it came down to a few key elements:

  • a vision for a different future (the why) but an openness to collaborate on the right path to get there (the how);
  • a preparedness to share or forgo credit;
  • a belief that the process to create change is as important as the outcome. A belief in fact that empowering people through the co-creative process is an outcome.

I learned about the incredible work of Edgeryders in catalysing new ways of thinking, working and living in Europe, of The Barefoot Guides out of South Africa, a co-created resource to deepen and develop approaches and initiatives that contribute to a changing world, of the struggle and progress of the Initiatives for Community Transformation in Uganda, as told by Peter and Grace, who had never left that country before (and who we will soon be supporting to run a campaign on StartSomeGood) and of Christina Jordan, our host and Ashoka Fellow, who has worked in Uganda and Belgium and now Thailand (and ran this campaign on StartSomeGood recently to support a refugee community) and is now spearheading the formation of Ci2i, a global community of co-creative changemakers.

Then it was on to the US and, after a week of meetings in San Francisco and Washington DC, the AshokaU Exchange in Providence, Rhode Island.

Speaking at AshokaU Exchange 2014

Presenting at the AshokaU Exchange

The Exchange was in some ways the opposite of the Learn/Share Lab: more expansive, relentless and individual. But no less inspiring and valuable. It brought together 800 people to explore how we embed and support social entrepreneurship on university campuses, split approximately 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 into students, faculty and funders. The students gave it a great energy, the faculty members shared incredible programmatic insights and the funders gave it gravitas and a sense of possibility. Together it was an exciting mix, with several concurrent streams of panels and workshops, short TED-style talks, banquets, small-group dinners and many side meetings.

I was able to share the work we’ve been doing bringing traditional grant funding and crowdfunding together through our Crowdmatch model and present on how student-led projects can raise the funds they need to launch and grow. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to announce a US-based Crowdmatch partnership in the near future.

The trip ended in NY where I presented at the first ConspireNY, a night of conspiratorial Pecha Kucha presentations. This was beyond nerve-wracking for me, as the requirements of the Pecha Kucha format (short talks with automatic slides, in this case 5 minutes with 20 slides which advanced every 15 seconds), brevity and perfect timing, are not at all my public speaking fortes. But given that I only prepared the talk that day (I was busy!) I was very pleased with the result and received great feedback. The video should be online soon.

Thanks again to Renata and Forming Circles for making this trip possible with their sponsorship! I learned a lot, made new friends and contacts and am confident it will lead to some exciting new partnerships and projects for StartSomeGood, so watch this space!

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What an incredible feeling it was to open the Changemakers Festival at HUB Sydney on Friday night. Looking around at the smiling, supportive faces, and knowing that similar near-simultaneous openings were happening in five other cities around Australia, I felt slightly overwhelmed by joy, pride, gratitude and relief. We did it! What started as an outlandish proposal a year ago had turned into reality thanks to the work of an entirely part-time team of four which I am so honoured to have been part of.

This is the first national Changemakers Festival but there was an event of the same name held in Sydney last April, organised by the Australian Social Innovation Exchange (ASIX) led by the late, great, Steve Lawrence. It was one weekend in Sydney and while the idea and language behind it were very powerful the format and late organisation meant it wasn’t all it could be.
This Changemakers Festival version 1 was held the weekend after I got back into Australia after four years living in the US and, exhausted from packing up our house in San Francisco and the trip home, and semi-marooned on the Northern Beaches staying with K’s family, I didn’t actually make it to the event. But the concept caught my attention and I felt immediately there was so much more that could be done with it.

That April weekend as the event was taking place in Redfern I actually said to K “I’m going to run that and take it national next year.” I’m only rarely given to grand pronouncements of intent like this, and they usually don’t work out. But here I am. I had a great opportunity in September/October last year to consult with The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) after they had taken over management of ASIX following Steve’s passing. I held forums in Sydney and Melbourne and interviewed 20 leading social innovators in Australia to better understand the value proposition of a community of practice around social innovation and what those involved in that community were looking for. Amongst the various recommendations I put forward I suggested that the Changemakers Festival should be re-launched as a national, open-source festival. Early this year TACSI asked me if I would be interested in making that happen.

And here we are. 154 events taking place in every state and territory, with 14 online events and opening night parties in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Alice Springs.

I’m especially proud of Sydney for how the community here has embraced this invitation. NSW has 48 events, more than any other state, with Sydney having more than any other city and HUB Sydney, with 12, hosting more events than any other venue. This is as it should be really, given Sydney is the biggest city, but the social innovation community here as long been seen as less dynamic and connected than elsewhere, so it’s very satisfying to show how far we’ve come over the past few years (most of which I spent overseas of course, so I take no credit!).

Thank you to everyone who turned out for all the Opening Night events, and I hope you’ve been enjoying the first weekend of the festival! Things really kick into gear next week with an inspiring array of gatherings, discussions, conferences and concerts.

Most of all thank you to the organisers of all the great events which make up the Changemakers Festival. Without you there would be no festival, and nothing for us to have launched on Friday. It’s been so inspiring to watch so many people and organisations respond to the invitation to be part of creating something bigger than any of us, something which reflects the diversity and energy of our community and tells the story of the Australia we are creating together. I am truly humbled by your generosity, hard work and passion.

I’m planning to attend the following events over the coming week:
Monday: Yoga for Change in the morning and the Deloitte Social Innovation Pitch event in the evening, Sydney
Tuesday: #4Good Brekky at Cafe Paramouunt in Surry Hills early, Green Drinks at HUB Sydney.
Wednesday: I’m on the panel for the Google+ Hangout “Financing Social Impact” along with a whos who of social financing, 1-2pm, then speaking at the FWD Conference in the afternoon following by Deloitte Social Innovation Pitch event, Melbourne
Thursday: Attending Progress Conference and hosting Crowdfunding for Changemakers at Ross House, 12.30-2, Melbourne
Friday: Progress, Melbourne
Saturday: I’m at Mentor at the Unleashed Summit at the Sydney Opera House
Sunday: The Unleashed Awards at the Sydney Opera House followed by Changemakers Connect, the festival closing night party at Button Bar, hosted by StartSomeGood and Think|Act|Change.

Phew! What an awesome few days!

I hope to see you at once of these events and that you find these next eight days inspiring, engaging and informative, that you meet some amazing new people, get exposed to some new stories and have the chance to share your own.

YOU are the Changemakers Festival.

Thank you.

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Runner - The Happy Rower on flickr
You are running coach, the analogy goes, and you have to choose between two runners. One of them has textbook form, smooth and efficient in his stride. The other is a mess, straying out of his lanes, arms and legs flailing unattractively. Despite this they are neck-and-neck at the end of the race. Who would you want to coach?

You would choose the worst runner, the guy with terrible form but who somehow managed to stay in the race despite this, because your coaching has the possibility to make the greater impact. You can’t do much with the guy with perfect form; he’s just not fast enough. But the sloppy guy, with refinement and coaching, might just be able to be really fast. In sporting parlance his ceiling is higher.

I feel like that’s where we are at with StartSomeGood right now, as we stand on the brink of unveiling the new version of our site to the world.

It’s been two years since the first version went live and, simply put, we have done almost everything wrong.

We built the first version of the website with only conceptual feedback from our target market – we didn’t show them the actual site until it was live. We didn’t talk enough about what we were doing while we were building it, and so failed to prime the community for our launch. We didn’t even have a LaunchRock page up to collect emails, so we started with zero on day 1. We put far too much time and effort into coaching efforts which didn’t sufficiently move the needle. We recruited the wrong people and compensated them in an unstrategic fashion, giving away more entity than we should have to people no longer with us.

We failed to test or monitor a lot of what was happening on our site. We were so tech-resource constrained I think it was too depressing to constantly focus  what couldn’t, in the short-term, be fixed. We just worked harder and harder to connect with and serve entrepreneurs, but these efforts couldn’t all be scaled and didn’t overcome all the shortfallings of the site itself. This lack of attention to metrics and testing meant we didn’t have as much data or insight as we should have when we became (slightly) less constrained in our tech resourcing and were able to invest in this new site.

So many mistakes.

But we’re still here. Along the way we listened, we learned. And now we are ready to show you some of those learnings embodied in this next iteration of our platform.

We interact constantly with our community, social entrepreneurs and community benefit organisations looking to raise funds in a new way. We’ve been intimately involved in over 300 campaigns now, and have seen what has and hasn’t worked. We’ve been knocked back by organisations we wanted to work with and have always asked why. We recruited an amazing advisory committee LINK who have helped stretch and inspire our thinking, as have a wide range of informal advisers and friends.

I can’t claim that we’re doing it all perfect now because we’re not. We’re busy and over-stretched and making compromises. The new version hasn’t had enough testing or rounds of user-feedback, but it’s had infinitely more than the first version. We would have done more but our updated UI/look-and-feel was done probono by Source Creative, who were lovely and generous and did a great job but didn’t have capacity for ongoing testing and additional rounds of tweaks, which was fair enough. It’s often better to put something out there and learn from how people actually use it anyway.

Raising a small amount of family-and-friends investment has allowed us to get this new version shipped and we’re committed to being much more focused on testing and analytics than we were with the first version.

There are a number of key improvements I’m excited to show you:
•    We’ve simplified our navigation and lightened the feeling of the site, giving it a cleaner and more modern look
•    We’ve put more emphasis on success stories and user-interactions, highlighting the people-powered nature of the site.
•    We’ve added alternatives to paypal, initially just for US ventures but coming soon for everyone else.
•    We’ve upgraded the venture dashboard, to help you launch and manage campaigns and;
•    We’ve improved the how to info and resources on the site to educate people about how to succeed at crowdfunding.

So where are we as a business? I truly believe we stand on the brink of great things.

Despite our abundant shortcomings we have built a vibrant community of entrepreneurs and changemakers. We have 10,000 subscribers to our newsletter, 10,000 followers on Twitter and 30,000 followers on Tumblr. We have successfully funded over 130 projects in 22 countries, and this is just the beginning.

We have a fantastic, talented, passionate team spread Australia, the US, England and Sweden. Everyone is involved because they believe in our mission and are driven to scale our impact and help changemakers around the globe. You can meet our newest colleagues here.

We have just announced a number of exciting partnerships, including with ING Direct who have committed significant funds to social entrepreneurs running campaigns on our site, and with the Global Food Startup Challenge, for which we are the global crowdfunding partner.

In terms of our financials we have started slow but all sites of our sort do. Crowdfunding is boom or bust. Once you pick up pace it tends to accelerate, but the vast majority of sites never even reach the point we are at, remaining extremely limited in terms of scope or traction.

I can understand the skepticism some feel about whether there is enough room for StartSomeGood in an extremely competitive crowdfunding market but I know we provide a unique service and truly believe we are the best home for most social entrepreneurs looking to raise money from their communities. The creative crowdfunding platform are simply not built with nonprofits and causes in mind. Our success rate (comparable with the creative crowdfunding sites), incredible partners and growing traction are strong positive indicators for this belief.

So if you’ve been holding off on getting your idea out there and launching a campaign for any reason I hope you’ll reconsider and give our site a try. If you launch before April 2 you’ll be in the running for the ‘Like-Off’ we are running, with a bonus $200 grant to the project with the most likes during a 24 hour period starting at midnight April 3 Greenwich Mean Time.

Please check out the new site and let me know what you think.

Onwards and upwards!

Image by The Happy Rower made available on a Creative Commons license via Flickr.

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From the Melbourne forum

TACSI, The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, has recently taken over management of ASIX, The Australian Social Innovation Exchange, and are exploring how best to carry on their work of connecting and enabling innovators. I’ve am thrilled to be participating in this process by facilitating the input of social entrepreneurs, innovators and those who support their work to help guide the way forward.

This is happening in three ways:

Firstly with 18 Individual interviews with 18 thought-leaders in our sector, including social entrepreneurs such as Brad Krauskopf from Hub Melbourne, Rebecca Scott from STREAT, Brodie McCullock from Space3 in Perth and Marcus Westbury from Renew Australia. Organisations represented include the Foundation for Young Australians, Social Traders, The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, the Centre for Social Impact and the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence. It’s a real treat to be able to speak with all these inspiring and committed changemakers and a big responsibility to reflect their insights to the TACSI board.

Secondly we’re hosting public workshops in Melbourne and Sydney.

Thirdly if you’re reading this I’d love you to take ten minutes to fill out this survey.

We all seem to understand instinctively that social innovation emerges best from a supportive community with a diversity of participants and support. The question becomes: how do we achieve that? What is the role than an organisation like TACSI and a program like ASIX can play in helping to foster both a community of innovators and a culture of innovation.

If you care about social innovation in Australia and how social innovators can best be supported this is a chance to help set a direction that makes a real difference for all of us. The survey will only take a few minutes (only six questions!) and your contributions will help guide my report to the board of TACSI and help them map a way forward for ASIX which supports our community and the work that needs doing to create better futures.

This is all happening very fast with my report due next week so the survey will only remain open until Saturday morning. Please check it out.
You can also follow the conversation and share your thoughts on Twitter via the #asixnext hashtag.

Thanks!

If you have any questions about the unification of ASIX and TACSI they should be directed to Martin Stewart-Weeks, a director on the TACSI board and co-founder and Chair of ASIX.

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Academy for Young Entrepreneurs poster (get a hard copy here)

Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka and social entrepreneurship visionary, is fond of asking parents, firstly, “what would you do if your child was failing maths?” Parents instinctively have an answer for this. They would spend more time with them doing their home, get them a tutor, buy a math training program. Then he asked, “what would you do if your child was failing to develop as a changemaker?” and the answers come much less readily.

How do we create a culture of changemaking in young people? By giving them opportunities to share their ideas and participate in creating change of course!

You get better at maths by doing more maths. You get better at sport by joining a team,  practicing and playing. We have clear pathways for gaining expertise in academics and sports but it’s only more recently that we’ve begun to see a focus on providing changemaking experiences for people at a younger age and preparing them for active citizenship.

This is something Ashoka has understood for some time, having launched Ashoka Youth Venture over ten years ago to support 16-20 year-olds to develop their own initiatives, and more recently establishing AshokaU to foster a culture of entrepreneurship on college campuses.  In Australia we’ve seen the establishment of the School for Social Entrepreneurs, who run year-long courses supporting emerging social entrepreneurs of all ages to launch and scale social impact ventures and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, of Social Startup 48, a startup weekend-style event for aspiring changemakers. I’m proud to say all the above organisations are partners of StartSomeGood.

I’m also thrilled to see more and more organisations using StartSomeGood to fill gaps in this ecosystem of opportunity, inspiring, mentoring and training young people to create the future they wish to see.

One Can Grow finished a successful fundraiser on our site just a couple of weeks ago and is piloting a social entrepreneurship training program for students at three high school in Sydney. Hope Empowered is currently raising funds to engage an even younger cohort in entrepreneurial activity with their Academy for Young Entrepreneurs Initiative which will focus at the primary school level. (If you like the sound of this please chip in here). And the organisation I founded 12 years ago, Vibewire, has just, as of this writing, hit the tipping point of their StartSomeGood fundraising campaign to support three younger social entrepreneurs (under 35) to work on issues of critical importance including mental health and sustainable design.

At StartSomeGood we believe that social entrepreneurs need three types of capital to succeed: financial, intellectual and relational. Our mission is to reduce the barriers to raising early-stage financial capital for nonprofits and changemakers through peerfunding (also called crowdfunding). As these barriers come down more social entrepreneurs are stepping up to launch programs which general these other forms of capital, teaching skills and providing community for aspiring social entrepreneurs.

So these initiatives and those like them expand the answer to how to encourage your child to learn changemaking skills will become more apparent and a new generation of changemakers and entrepreneurs will, from an early age, know they can create the future we all need.

How do you think we could better support young changemakers?

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A couple of weekends ago I spent Sunday hanging out as a mentor at Social Startup 48, a Startup Weekend-style event where participants create a company from scratch over a single weekend, only for social impact. It was a fun, inspiring and thought-provoking experience and I’m thrilled to have been involved. There’s nothing I like more than participating in creating new things, working to support new changemakers to realise their vision.

To my fascination the event was mildly controversial in social entrepreneurship circles in the lead-up, with push back against the announcement on the Australian Social Innovation eXchange (ASIX) website and Emerging Leaders in Social Change LinkedIn Group (members only). I threw myself vigorously into the later conversation, before I had any involvement in the event.

The issue people had with it was, largely, the slogan: “How fast can you make a difference?” Change doesn’t happen quickly they insisted, any and all change efforts require long-term study before making a move or trying anything else. Non-experts will only stuff it up. Something like that.

And of course, this is very true for many change efforts. Bringing diverse stakeholders together is often slow difficult work, as can making change inside any large institution. Building trust within community requires a long-term commitment, especially if you are from outside that community. Understanding all the dynamics of an issue (is this even possible?) and the work already done requires careful study.

But these are not the only pathways to creating change.

Social entrepreneurs are the inventors of the social change world, and just as it was for science for many hundreds of years,  it is the inventors, the tinkers, those who get their hands dirty to go to work on figuring things out through action and learning, who have often created huge and innovative leaps forward in delivering social outcomes.

The point is not that one approach is better than another but that we need both. The greatest advances occur when the breakthroughs pioneered by the inventors is scaled through market mechanisms, government action or cross-sector partnerships, or by reaching a tipping point in cultural consciousness.

An event like Social Startup 48 would seem to naturally attract those drawn to the later approach, but not exclusively. Look through the list of participants and you would see researchers, academics and bureaucrats amongst their number. Working in teams to make decisions fast is an amazing learning experience no matter where you’re coming from.

It’s also true that in science the greatest breakthroughs are often earlier in people’s careers. It is the ability to see things from new angles, less encumbered by the prevailing wisdom or business-as-usual, which often (again, not always) leads to transformational breakthroughs, not experience.

So inviting newer, younger and more diverse actors to participate in creating change, however “fast” or “slow” they go about it initially, is a crucial part of creating change. We need new ideas and new participants to contribute to many wicked problems and creating more participation in our changemaking systems is a critical democratic advance in its own right.

It’s also worth thinking about what motivates people to walk the unquestionably long and hard road of affecting systemic social change. Could this motivation itself not arrive in an instance, when eyes and hearts become open to the need for change and the possibility of being involved in making it happen? In my experience many changemakers can trace their decision to commit to proactively creating the future to a specific formative event. If done right Social Startup 48 could be that experience for people and even if none of the specific ventures designed over the weekend reached any sort of scale the experience of conceiving and launching a social venture, learning about what works and what doesn’t, will inform their future endeavours. Vibewire was the third organisation I founded and StartSomeGood is my fourth. You learn most by doing.

Certainly spending Sunday afternoon hanging out in the Queen Street Studios with everyone and seeing ten very busy teams hashing out their business models, core stories and make plans for pitching gave me a lot of joy – 50-odd people prepared to spend their weekend and sacrifice their sleep to make a difference is something to be celebrated! There was an amazing buzz as teams huddled to make rapid-fire decisions then scattered to fulfill tasks: coding, shooting video, taking photos, developing a business plan, preparing the slides for their pitch, designing a logo (or organising to have four different teams logo’s designed in the case of Crowdworthy) the focus ramped up across the day as they approached the deadline or pitches to be submitted.

The pitches were well-executed and the many of the ideas were well thought-through and compelling and the progress made was very impressive overall. You can see videos of all the pitches in the storify I made and check out the Social Startup 48 ventures listed on StartSomeGood.

The collaborative consumption movement was in full swing – fully eight of the ten ventures were a platform of some kind. This was in-part a result of the rising profile of and huge untapped potential for a more collaborative approach to consumption and community-building but also, I think, a result of teams having been somewhat pre-assigned, so as to spread certain skillsets, especially technical, around the groups. I can see the logic behind this but I think a more purely self-organised approach playing out on the Friday night would result in a less equal spread of skills across teams and therefore a greater diversity of teams which would produce more diverse ideas and ventures.

There are other little tweaks and improvements I am going to suggest to the organisers, which is the whole point – you have to run an event like this to figure out what works. No amount of research or modeling would ever teach you as much as putting yourself on the line and actually organising the event, seeing who turned up and how they responded, listening to your community and learning from what happened and doing it that much better next time. Social Startup 48 gave 50 people the opportunity to take that courageous first step, without which no other steps would follow.

Congratulations to the great team behind Social Startup 48 – I hope this is the first of many ss48 events in Sydney and around the world.

To get more of a taste for the weekend along with videos of all the pitches and many of the presentations check out storify.

[View the story “Social Startup 48 – Sydney” on Storify]

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The social entrepreneurship world is all atwitter about the latest New York Times column by David Brooks which questions the effectiveness and strategic usefulness of social entrepreneurship. On some level it feels hardly worth responding to, just check out the opening paragraph:

If you attend a certain sort of conference, hang out at a certain sort of coffee shop or visit a certain sort of university, you’ve probably run into some of these wonderful young people who are doing good….

So, this is clearly going to be another one of those columns typical of David Brooks-types, to take their limited personal experiences and exposures to what’s happening in the world beyond their local coffee shops and think tanks and spin that out into a grandiose theory to describe some supposed trend in the world. So you can guess what’s coming next:

It’s hard not to feel inspired by all these idealists, but their service religion does have some shortcomings. In the first place, many of these social entrepreneurs think they can evade politics. They have little faith in the political process and believe that real change happens on the ground beneath it.

That’s a delusion. You can cram all the nongovernmental organizations you want into a country, but if there is no rule of law and if the ruling class is predatory then your achievements won’t add up to much.

World, meet Brooks’ latest straw man, a caricature of social entrepreneurs based, it seems, on a few people he has met at “a certain sort” of coffee shop and conference, although he doesn’t tell us what sort that is (presumably the sort that draws someone like David Brooks).

This is almost too-silly on its face to waste effort on, as the google search Brooks clearly couldn’t be bothered doing will instantly turn up numerous social entrepreneurs working on exactly these issues: increasing the rule of law and reducing corruption, both in the United States and all around the world.

Brooks is right that a country where law and order have broken down is not fertile ground for social entrepreneurship. You won’t find a lot of NGOs in Somalia. But surely no-one would argue that business and government should be left simply to monitor themselves? Once democratic rights are won they must constantly be maintained and re-imagined to serve the needs of each generation. It feels particularly odd for a conservative like Brooks to dismiss the role of citizens to hold the political system to account from the outside.

Hence the need for third sector players like Transparency International, founded by social entrepreneur Peter Eigen, which works to expose and reduce the culture of corruption worldwide, exactly the sort of initiative Brooks seems to be calling for. Change.org, founded by Ben Rattray, just listed as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year, is expanding political participation and involvement, the Cost of Freedom Project is working to help people register to vote, the starting point for political participation in the US, and  organizations like Teach for America, Global Citizen Year and The Association of Young Americans amongst many many others are inspiring the next generation of involved citizens.

In Australia organizations like Vibewire, Our Say and Left/Right play a similar role. Third sector advocacy organizations like GetUp in Australia, MoveOn in the United States and Avaaz globally, and those like them focused on every issue you could imagine, very directly engage in lobbying government and mobilizing public sentiment around specific policy debates. You could literally go on listing social entrepreneur-founded and led organizations which engage directly with the political process all day, hundreds of counter-examples to what Brooks claims is the “prevailing ethos” of social entrepreneurship which seeks to “evade politics”.

Naturally you could also list (and meet in coffee shops) social entrepreneurs working to affect change outside the political process, on issues like hunger and landmine removal, educational reform and peace-building, leadership development and mentoring, inventing more sustainable technologies and distributing life-saving medicines and everything else you could imagine. Do all these social entrepreneurs successfully change the world? Of course not. But market failures and government negligence abound and working to support each other locally, regionally and internationally is both a form of community self-preservation and a fundamental human instinct which has saved and changed millions of lives.

In the diversity of efforts arrayed against a variety of challenges we find things that work and, often in partnership with government and increasingly with business, push those solutions forward to reach greater levels of impact, to save more lives, empower more communities, facilitate greater participation in our democracies and support those still fighting for that same opportunity in their countries.

We need all these changemakers, and more, to bring about change on all scales and create better futures for our communities. We need to support programs that inspire new people to get involved in creating change, not deride their desire to serve as naive and ineffective as Brooks does. Social entrepreneurs are the innovators and risk-takers of civic society, often pioneering new approaches which are adopted and scaled by governments, and holding governments responsible for the impacts of their decisions. Their optimism is based not on naivety but pragmatism, on being resolutely focused on getting things done.

I only hope that Brooks chooses his coffee shops and conferences a little better in future as I’m sure he’d learn a great deal from greater contact with a wider spectrum of social entrepreneurs and come to appreciate the many ways their passion and commitment manifests in an open society.

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